A field of dreams for thousands of young soccer players has turned into a nightmare.
For 15 years, the Elephant Soccer Club of Harlem hosted soccer training clinics for kids at Morningside Park, but now the city Parks Department is giving them the boot.
The nonprofit club is the “heartbeat of the community,” according to soccer coach Adam Norse, who said he witnessed the park rangers tell the Elephant parents on Oct. 3: “The field isn’t for these kids.”
On Saturday, rangers let the kids practice, but issued a summons to their coach afterward for unauthorized use of the field.
Players and their families — some of whom have grown up playing for the club since its inception 15 years ago — are “distraught,” Norse said.
Rangers have said the field can only be used for baseball after it was recently resodded, yet appear to be singling out the Elephants, said club manager Joe Lupton in an email to media outlets.
Other soccer games have been allowed to continue, according to the club leaders — who suspect the move could be retaliation for publicly complaining about screws left on the fields after a Parks-sponsored food festival.
“Ever since we started complaining about the screws on the field, the positive relationship that had existed for 15 years began to get more antagonistic,” Lupton said.
The prohibition has led some club leaders to wonder if the Parks Department is using their kids as pawns in its battle with the neighborhood over the Harlem Eat-Up food festival that takes place for two weeks each summer on the fields.
The event has drawn ire from some in the community who say the wooden slats vendors lay on the grass destroy the ground, according to Lupton.
The club, which caters to kids ages 3 to 18, was “never bothered” by the event itself, Lupton said, but was “deeply disturbed” by “dozens upon dozens” of large 2-inch screws discovered in the grass two years in a row in the days following the festival.
When he and other club members raised their concerns at a community board meeting last year, the Parks Department denied Eat-Up was responsible for the screws and blamed the Elephants for the damaged grass.
“I was flabbergasted to see the Parks Department more intent on defending the Eat-Up organizers and even went on to blame ESCH as being the cause the field being damaged,” Lupton said.
A year later, the Parks Department orphaned the Elephants.
Community leaders, Lupton said, are supportive of the club reclaiming the turf.
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